Mugabe tests SADC’s power
22 Aug 2014 00:00 Takudzwa Munyaka
As the new chairperson, he is already trying to further his own agenda in the region.
Strong position: President Robert Mugabe urged SADC states to resist the temptation to accept Western aid at the regional bloc’s 34th summit in Victoria Falls last weekend. (Reuters)
In July last year, President Robert Mugabe lashed out at regional leaders, who were insisting that Zimbabwe should hold elections in accordance with the election road map crafted by the country’s political parties with the help of the Southern Africa Development Community, and threatened to pull Zimbabwe out of it.
“We are in SADC voluntarily,” he told thousands of supporters, while he was announcing Zanu-PF’s election manifesto. “If SADC decides to do stupid things, we can withdraw.”
Now that things have changed and Mugabe is steering the SADC ship, the region is waiting to see whether he will bring his trademark dictatorial style to the regional body.
Strained relations with the West
At the recent SADC summit in Victoria Falls, diplomats spoke anonymously about how his continued strained relations with the West, particularly with Britain and the United States, would affect the region. The indications are that he will want to use the platform to fight these long-running battles, as evidenced by his calls at the opening and closing of the summit to regional leaders not to allow “hostile” countries to observe the forthcoming elections in Namibia and Mozambique.
Mugabe also brought another of his policies to the summit – the rejection of foreign aid. It is compromising the independence of the body, he said. “Our continued over-reliance on the generosity and goodwill of our co-operating partners tend to compromise our ownership and sustainability of SADC programmes.”
But, ironically, just as with Zimbabwe’s own domestic policy, China is the foreigner that gets special treatment. Mugabe told reporters after the closing ceremony that he hoped China would help to fund infrastructural projects in the region.
SADC has a regional infrastructure development master plan, Vision 2027, a 15-year blueprint that will guide the implementation of cross-border infrastructure projects between 2013 and 2027. Priority infrastructure projects identified by the region could cost $500-billion.
“We will discuss with China on infrastructural projects on adding value to our products. We will discuss with them to increase their investments in our region,” he said.
Mugabe also sneaked his country’s five-year economic development plan, ZimAsset, into the summit. The conference’s theme was: “SADC strategy for economic transformation – leveraging the region’s diverse resources for sustainable economic and social development through beneficiation and value addition.”
Critics in Zimbabwe’s civil society say this is essentially the plan of ZimAsset and the region cannot be forced to adopt Zimbabwe’s economic plans because the country is years behind the others.
An official who attended the closed session of the summit said that Mugabe put a lot of pressure on President Jacob Zuma to sign the Protocol on Trade in Services, which most other regional leaders signed in 2012. But Zuma and Namibian President Hifikepunye Pohamba refused to do so, angering Mugabe, who criticised Zuma at a press briefing after the summit.
According to Eldred Masunungure, a University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer, the leaders’ refusal to sign pointed to the fact that Mugabe will not get his way entirely.
“Besides, SADC has certain structures and processes that are institutionalised to a point that they are immune from individual leaders’ personality and whims. I do not see Mugabe being able to imprint his wishes on the organisation because SADC is a collective organisation that operates on the basis of the least common denominator,” he said